interview

Super Mario 3D Land Director Talks Sequel Possibilities And More

by Tim Turi on Mar 22, 2012 at 10:25 AM


We got a chance to sit down with the director of Super Mario 3D Land, Koichi Hayashida. The expressive, charismatic Nintendo developer worked as the main programmer of Super Mario Sunshine and directed Super Mario Galaxy 2 and several other games at the company. During our interview, we spoke with him about a possible Super Mario 3D Land sequel, the chances of a Super Mario 64 3D remake, and more.

Would you be interested in doing a Super Mario Galaxy 2-style sequel to Super Mario 3D Land?

I guess I have to say first of all that Super Mario Galaxy 2 development was really, really hard for us. We usually have the opportunity to look at technological innovation in a new piece of hardware that can drive us to new play experiences for people who love Mario. When you have to make a second Mario game on the same hardware generation, you don’t have that same driving force to push you into completely new experiences based on unique hardware capabilities. The burden was on us in the case of Super Mario Galaxy 2 to try and come up with ideas that could surprise people without the technological innovation pushing us as it would have normally.

I saw during your GDC 2012 presentation that you used levels from Mario 64 to test out the 3DS’ stereoscopic 3D. Fans were really excited by Super Mario Galaxy 2’s Mario 64 tribute level, Throwback Galaxy. Would you ever consider a 3D Super Mario 64 remake?

That early test that we did on the Mario 64 level when we were beginning development of Super Mario 3D Land was actually just to see how that game might play with stereoscopic 3D. What we figured out very quickly was that that way the levels were all designed was going to create so many stereo window violations – where an object would come in between Mario and the camera – that we knew we were going to need a different approach. So at the very least, we did rule out a remake of Super Mario 64 in stereoscopic view on the Nintendo 3DS.

You’re a very charismatic Nintendo developer who has a lot of experience working closely with Miyamoto. Would you have any interest in taking on the role Miyamoto has one day?

We think about what’s the best team makeup for every project. What’s important when making a Mario game, of course, is putting the gameplay ideas with new technology in a way that can make people smile. The important thing is that it’s not necessarily going to be me in the same role every time on each of these projects. There are so many people working on these games. What we all try to do is take some of these fundamental ideas that Mr. Miyamoto has passed down to us but put our own analysis and spin on it. What we love to see is all of our developers slowly level up until they are in a position where they can take charge of a project and do something amazing. But it’s not always going to be me.

Do you have a favorite Super Mario 3D Land level?

This isn’t one that I designed, but my favorite stage is probably the very last Bowser fight. So not the one that you get the regular ending from, but rather after you clear all the special worlds you have this special fight with Bowser and the fireballs he shoots become much faster. It’s a good challenge.

I’d love to tell you one of the moments in development that led to those Bowser fights. We had a very early test that involved Bowser shooting fireballs towards the camera – towards the viewers. When we noticed that the fireballs popping out of the screen created such a good effect, we thought we had to use it. When we saw how smoothly that effect was incorporated into the final game I was very happy with it.

Do you have a favorite song from the Mario games?

I know this is such a generic answer, but I really love that first Super Mario Bros. theme. There’s a good reason for that. I feel like it uses the rhythm of gameplay to create that sound. The idea that as Mario is approaching that first Goomba he’s like [hums first part of Super Mario Bros. theme].

Why do you think people love Kuribo’s shoe from Super Mario Bros. 3 so much?

I guess maybe one of the elements that’s responsible for why Kuribo’s shoe seems so popular is that it’s just really fun to look at. It’s such a cute object. Another thing that has probably captured peoples’ imagination is how fun it is to get into a vehicle that you’ve taken away from an enemy. Sort of like taking that cloud away from Lakitu is such a memorable experience.

What is it like seeing other parts of the Japanese gaming industry struggle while Nintendo appears to remain in a relatively safe position?

I certainly don’t sit back and think, “We’re Nintendo and we’re doing fine so I don’t have to work hard.” Rather, it’s really hard work to make something fun and new that brings an interesting experience to a lot of people. For example, it’s not that hard to find something new, but that’s not always fun. And we can always create something fun, but if it’s not something that’s fresh and different to people, then we’re not capturing exactly the experience that we need to. I don’t know how to say it, but Mario games are probably not as easy to create as most people must think. I feel like every day at work we’re really wracking our brains and working hard.

Why did you decide to bring back the idea of Mario shrinking in Super Mario 3D Land?

One of the basic reasons for why we didn’t use a life meter for this game is that we didn’t want to put anymore UI elements on the screen than we had to. The reason for that is they may come into contact with terrain that’s popping up in the stereoscopic view and the UI element would be blocking it. So you’d have a stereoscopic window violation that doesn’t really feel good for the player to view. So we didn’t want too many obstacles on screen in that sense. But, we still wanted a way to express the health of Mario so players could have that as a way to avoid instant-death risk. So, we eventually decided to go with the small Mario. But that wasn’t decided until a fair bit of the way through development. I’d say we were about a third of the way through before we started to do that.

Are there any scrapped Super Mario 3D Land ideas that you would be excited to see in a future Mario game?

It’s hard to say, because I feel like we did use every single good idea that we thought of for Super Mario 3D Land. I often think back to that time on Super Mario Galaxy development when Mr. Miyamoto told us we came up with so many ideas that we should use the ones that didn’t make it into the game for a sequel. But now as a director when I look back on those brainstorming thought processes I realize that you come out with a huge amount of ideas, but what you decide to use are the ones that floated to the very top. The ones that seem like they’re going to be especially effective and are going to implement well. What you’re left with are a bunch of ideas that are maybe a little bit more difficult to implement or don’t seem like they’d be as effective which can be quite a challenge if you’re making a game based off that set of ideas.

But this time around we didn’t even have that situation because I don’t feel like we left very many ideas at all, if any, on the cutting room floor of Super Mario 3D Land. Maybe if we hadn’t been able to include statue Mario that could have been an element that could’ve came forward to another game, but as it turned out very late in development we did have the chance to include statue Mario as a reward for players who were able to reach the special worlds.

Where did the propeller block power-up come from?

We had several reasons for deciding to use the propeller block in Super Mario 3D Land. The first, and maybe most simple, is that it feels really good to shoot up into the air like that and something that we had the opportunity to see from a side view in New Super Mario Bros. But in a game like Super Mario 3D Land, when you get to shoot straight up and view it from above it’s especially effective. That takes us to our second reason, which is the stereoscopic view is really great when you’re looking down into something; you get such a great sense of depth. Giving players the opportunity to experience that perspective with a power-up specifically linked to that view, functionally, seemed like a very good idea.

Similarly, the question mark block that spits out coins when it gets stuck to you head came in really late in development. We already had a system whereby we would have the propeller block get stuck on your head and wanted something else that would make use of this same system. We thought why not the question block? Then our Mario player programmer went ahead and mocked up something where coins would just keep popping out of it. We thought it was really funny, and wanted to be sure to use it somewhere. But of course it’s not one of the big, main features of the game; it’s just a little fun thing for people to discover.

Little girls seem to love Princess Peach, despite the fact that she plays a very minor role in the main games. Why do you think this is?

I would have to say that maybe it’s that Peach has been a playable character in quite a few games recently, when you look at the Mario Kart series, Mario Party, or even the Super Smash Bros. games. Maybe that has given people opportunities to identify with the character. But that does seem to be the case that a lot of young girls do want to play as Princess Peach. Of course, I can’t relate to their position exactly, being a middle-aged man. But that does seem to be the case.

What’s it like creating a game that’s so whimsical, light-hearted, and broadly appealing in a market that’s saturated with violent shooters?

I have to say that the fun that comes from Mario games comes from the expression that you see in that world. What we try to do is try to make the most absolutely suitable environment for these really fun expressions. An example of that would be the idea of coins floating in the air, which is a strange notion. It’s a bit fantastic to think about and it’s certainly not related to any kind of realistic scenario. But that’s what we’re trying to create. It’s the most suitable world to have fun in. If we were to start with a more realistic scenario, we would end up eventually being limited by the constraints of realism. For example, if we were going to build a game with cars in it, we certainly wouldn’t be able to have to cars flying and diving in water as they do in Mario Kart 7. This is something they can only do because they inhabit this Mario world. Our focus is really on realizing these expressions that bring fun to games.